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CVEC to pay MPCA $120K in fines for gasifier violation

BENSON -- Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company of Benson must pay $120,000 in fines to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency as part of an agreement over alleged violations involving its gasifier system.

CVEC reported Tuesday that the MPCA has accused it of unclear record keeping and tardy performance testing of its regulated emission control equipment. The primary focus of the agreement is a self-reported incident in which an unallowed feedstock was included as fuel for the gasifier.

According to CVEC, it reported to the MPCA that what likely amounted to one adulterated, 8-foot long two-by-four had been chipped and shredded into a 20-ton load of wood used as fuel in the gasifier.

"CVEC agrees with MPCA that this should not have occurred,'' General Manager Mike Jerke said in a statement announcing the stipulation agreement with the agency. "We do not agree with the magnitude of the penalty.''

The company said it agreed to pay the civil penalty to put the matter at rest, but it "strongly disagrees'' with the conclusions drawn by MPCA.

The agreement requires CVEC to pay $70,000 in cash and submit a proposal for a supplemental environmental project for at least an additional $50,000.

"CVEC cares deeply about being a good steward of the environment. That philosophy is part of our culture. While missing a set calendar date for a stack test or having unclear records may not have a direct adverse impact on the environment, it is nonetheless, unacceptable. As a company, we expect better,'' Jerke stated.

The company's gasification system is the first of its kind and has won the company attention for developing biomass fuels.

The gasifier uses corn cobs harvested from the fields of CVEC members as well as wood scraps to produce a natural gas substitute to fire boilers at the plant. The process reduces the reliance on fossil fuel. The company said its own voluntary testing of the biomass char left after gasification led it to conclude one of its wood suppliers had shipped a load that contained adulterated wood that was painted or treated.

CVEC alerted MPCA and concluded the amount of adulterated wood was one two-by-four.

The company said it took steps to mitigate the issue and is convinced there was no appreciable impact on the environment.